Ian and Margaret's RV Adventures travel blog

Approaching the Mississippi River. The bridge isn't nearly as imposing as those...

Crossing the Mississippi -- the ubiquitous River Boat Casino!

A meander of the Missippi -- it seems to spread out forever.

We're finally in Wisconsin -- our rig at the Wisconsin Riverside Campground...

Neatly planted, vibrant green rows of crops near our campground.

A bank in Spring Green designed by William Wesley Peters, one of...

Another view of the bank -- a very typical Wes Peters design.

A portion of the Visitors' Center at Taliesin, containing a restaurant and...

Unity Chapel near Taliesin -- one of Mr. Wright's earliest design projects.

A waterfall at the entrance to the main house, Taliesin; water is...

Wednesday we moved on to a nice campground just outside of Des Moines IA. After going through Kansas and Nebraska, where many of the farms and small towns look sort of scruffy and not terribly prosperous (although there are certainly a number of large farms that look very successful), it was a nice change to get into Iowa. Everything looks very green, the fields are neatly fenced and planted or plowed and the houses and barns are painted and look in good repair. Again, there are exceptions, but not many. As we moved through Iowa we noticed a number of barns with what look to be Amish quilt designs painted either on upper doors or on the side. Although we know there are a number of Amish in the area, we’re not sure whether the owners of these barns are actually Amish (there were enough motorized vehicles around to make us doubt that) or whether it’s just a decorative style, but they were interesting and looked to have been kept in good shape – not a lot of faded paint and weathered boards around here! Maybe someone from that area can enlighten us.

Thursday we continued our move through Iowa, stopping in the northeast corner at a campground that was a total surprise to us. It’s so new it doesn’t even show on the Google Earth maps, so we had no idea what to expect. In fact, in many ways it’s one of the very nicest we’ve been in and, although not cheap, it’s certainly not among the most expensive we’ve found – particularly since we’ve arrived in Wisconsin! It’s clearly a place that caters to families, which can make it noisy at times, but we enjoyed our short stay there. From there we wound our way northeast along secondary roads toward Wisconsin. One thing we’ve noticed, however, is the prevalence of “fire rings” for campfires at each campsite in the campgrounds around here. We think that denotes more usage by weekend and vacation campers (which is confirmed by the relative emptiness of the campgrounds during the week) and not so much by fulltimers or longer-term RVers like us – most people we know aren’t too fond of smelling wood smoke 24 hours a day. I like a good campfire as much as the next person, but when I’m smelling like smoke for a couple of hours after I leave a campground, I know it’s been too much – or when we can still smell it inside our coach long after all the fires have been put out.

We’ve noticed that the older interstate and US highways in the Midwest, having been constructed and maintained with concrete pavement, are much noisier and bumpier than we generally see in the West. As a result, we tend to get fatigued much earlier, just because of the noise and constant rattling from the bumpy roads. Not as bumpy as many of the roads in Alaska, mind you, but we’re not going 30 mph either! So, when we looked at a good old paper map (yes, we still travel with those, and a good thing, too, as our GPS is far from infallible!) and saw that we had a choice of going back to the four-lane US highway we had just come off of to head into Wisconsin or heading cross-country on secondary roads, we didn’t hesitate to take the secondary road choice. In fact, the road condition was in many places not a whole lot better, but the scenery was more interesting and there was less traffic.

[Upon re-reading the last two paragraphs, I realized how grumpy they sound! I guess that’s the way we get when we’re just “moving” and not stopping to take a breath, smell the roses (without wood smoke getting in the way) and relax. We’ll be in a better mood once we get where we are going – blame it all on a leaky water heater!]

Although we shouldn’t have been, we were surprised and excited when suddenly we crossed the Mississippi River! Of course, we’ve heard stories periodically about flooding in Iowa from the Mississippi, so we knew it was around here somewhere, but we’d forgotten that it marks the boundary between Iowa and Wisconsin (and also much of the line between Wisconsin and Minnesota). It seemed somehow fitting that our entry into Wisconsin, after so much trouble getting here, should be so dramatic (and that it should involve a large expanse of water, ironically!).

After a relatively short drive along a scenic bypass highway that runs along the north side of the Wisconsin River, we arrived at Spring Green, our home for the next week. We checked in with our friend Effi Casey at Taliesin, who immediately invited us to a reception and dinner they were having that night in honor of a group of architectural school alumni (The Taliesin Fellows) who were visiting for a board meeting and work day. We accepted enthusiastically, of course.

A short digression for those of you who may be wondering what the heck is a Taliesin: Taliesin (a Welsh word meaning “shining brow”) was the summer home of the noted American architect Frank Lloyd Wright for most of his life. His mother’s family settled in the area in the 19th century and when Mr. Wright left Chicago in 1911, he moved to this area near the town of Spring Green, where he had spent summers with his grandparents, aunts and uncles, and built a home, which he named Taliesin, in recognition of its location on the “brow” of a hill. It’s impossible to describe the history and significance of Taliesin in a few words, so I won’t even try, but there are hundreds of books written about it. (Click here for the Wikipedia page if you’re interested.) Although I (Margaret) have been doing volunteer work with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation for about 15 years at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, (the winter home of the Wrights and the architectural school Mr. Wright and his wife founded in the 1930’s) and Ian joined me as a member of the Taliesin Chorus once he joined my life, we have never been to the Wisconsin Taliesin. Circumstances, which in the past had conspired to prevent us from making a trip up here, came together to lead us here this summer. (By the way, although my last name is, in fact, Wright, extensive genealogical research has confirmed that I am not in any way related to Frank Lloyd Wright – my interest in him has been architectural and artistic, not familial!).

When we arrived at Taliesin Friday evening, Effi met us and gave us a short introductory tour – it all seemed so familiar from hundreds of pictures and descriptions we’ve seen, but nothing really captures the atmosphere and beauty of the place. The weather was perfect, which didn’t hurt, and we were prepared to be impressed, but it took our breath away. We are glad we’re going to be here for nearly a week so we will have time to explore at a more leisurely pace and soak up all the atmosphere we can. We joined the group gathered for cocktails, which included many people we knew – and several we were surprised to see, as we hadn’t known exactly which of the school alumni were there. We had a great visit with several old friends over cocktails and then dinner and then continued our tour of the buildings, ending up in Effi’s charming cottage (formerly a cattle barn and chicken coop but now made habitable for humans) for a catch-up visit with her before we came back to our campground.

I’ll catch up in the next few days with our adventures around Spring Green (which is a charming little town with a great arts community, as well as the center of a lively farming and dairy industry area) and Taliesin. We didn’t take a camera to dinner Friday night, choosing to save our photographic energy for a time when we had less distraction, but I’ve included just a couple of pictures as a taste of what is to come.

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